Cherotic Magic by Frank Moore
by Barbara Smith, 1991
Due to complex reasons of historical conditions and need, artists from
the industrialized nations of the world more or less simultaneously (late
1950’s - early 1970’s) felt a depth of experience uncontainable
in ordinary and available cultural forms. They emerged with a language
of remarkable similarity – clearly felt in retrospect to be shamanic
and whose purposes extended far beyond the realm of the commercialized
art market. One of these performance artists is Frank Moore who has just
published an introductory manual for prospective apprentices in shamanic/art
practices. The book is also a very helpful means of access to this particular
realm of performance art for the historian and student.
Moore, paradoxically a severely disabled cerebral palsied human being,
who cannot clearly utter a single word is simultaneously a clear and eloquent
writer about a reality-shifting form of art he calls Cherotic Magic and
a spectacularly courageous, ecstatic journeyer and practitioner of shamanic
Reversing the ideas of normal causality, his book guides one towards
powerful experiences of re-integration into a unified field of consciousness
about by the apprenticeship. The radical purposes of the book initiate
a teacher/student relationship more appropriately similar to a guru situation
than the normal art student context which we all know can be one which
borders on charismatic adulation. Rather, the relationship is intended
to awaken and restructure the whole being with access to an interrelated “web
of all possibilities,” a potentiated ground of existence, from
which the student may return empowered with energy, vision and unflinching
to change the so-called reality structure of this fragmented and specialized
culture. The process is a form of magic, which inspires a sense of body
wholeness and aliveness where the personal power is to be found. A manual
of faith and a description of the nature of apprenticeship, the book
is a clarification of the sort of contractual agreement one enters with
teacher, rarely stipulated but here clearly spelled out. This agreement
is one of mutual responsibility where the risk is clearly seen to be
taken by both parties.
Having explored these realms a good deal myself both in terms of self-discovery
and also with teachers, I find the book to be rigorously tough in its demands
(on the potential student and quite naturally the teacher as well), and
it also very clearly describes qualities required (such as trust) and the
benefits to be gained in these explorations (such as love).
Moore has broken the apprenticeship into segments with re-entry periods
back into ordinary life between the intervals in order to accommodate
Western students’ difficulty in going through the lengthy course in a sustained
fashion. The fact that the student must exhibit a deep and long-term calling,
will or faith to repeatedly return to the teaching is Moore’s greatest
risk, for spiritual apprenticeship is not a common practice in Western
culture. This is a little known fact that the apprenticeship entails
risk in the making and/or breaking of the relationship not only in regard
the student but more so for the teacher.
Moore speaks of the a-logical interaction, as a journey along which student
and teacher become soul mirrors. Moore is not seeking a following, however.
He states to his credit, I believe, that such work is highly personal and
requires one-to-one attention and becomes non-productive when he has many
The radical nature of this esoteric apprenticeship practice includes
the breaking of social mores and taboos in order to reach direct experience
particularly in the realm of conventional sexuality. Moore clearly states
however that the touching and erotic playing involved (Eroplay) is not
driven by the goal of sexual intercourse, but is the refreshing awakening
of what he calls Cherotic energy which becomes a free fund of available
and heightened “juice” for healing and creativity. (These teachings
parallel quite exactly the teachings I’ve experienced from my Native
American shaman teacher and also Tantric practices.)
My first response to reading Cherotic Magic is one of resonance and appreciation,
the feeling of knowing very deeply that of which he speaks as true and
uncompromising. He gives examples and authentication through powerfully
written, illuminating stories about his own early life of terrible isolation
and study; the breakthroughs which allowed him to finally believe in
his own intelligence, joy and beauty and to receive the powerful inner
of intrinsically experienced wisdom and knowledge of these liberating
teachings. These life passages correspond to such experiences of mystics
I appreciate many things about this book, not the least of which are
the words Moore has coined to name certain qualities and goals of his
(such as Eroplay and Chero). One such word Erour, means vulnerable strength.
Its meaning corresponds exactly to my own early performance experience.
In the past, I put myself in very psychologically risky positions in
performances and I was frequently criticized for doing so as if I were “hurting
myself”. My own experience was quite to the contrary, although I
was in fact going to “the place of fear or pain or constraint” in
myself with vulnerability and because I deliberately chose to do so,
it was an act of strength and I returned with released energy and power.
If anything in his book is weak, it is this issue of authority and how
to define the limits (and/or goals) of guru/student practice. It is weak
not because I think Frank is either weak or inauthentic … but because
we live in a spiritually naïve culture. Most people I imagine are
cynics. The book is not written for such people as there is no language
that I know of to convince them a priori to any experience which in itself
is convincing. Further, the way one meets one’s teachers in life
is often inherently mysterious and a unique process. Perhaps the only ways
a potential student can judge such persons and situations have first of
all to do with one’s depth of calling and an experienced synchronicity.
Failing that, one needs to feel one may leave the teacher at any time
despite the pressure to stay and one can also inquire of former students
For me, it would be advantageous if he could paint a picture of what
completion might look like. Is it simply staying the course (twelve years
for a resident;
seven on, five off approximately / seven days for the introductory course)?
The difficulty is that completion of such a practice might look very
different in each of the “graduates” and only a sense of
demonstrable knowing and changed behavior would be adequate.
The book is replete with black and white drawings by Michael LaBash. Depending
on prior biases, they can appear to be psychedelically violent and visceral
with a heavy emphasis on sex. They are intricate intertwinings of interpenetrating
fields which writhe over the entire drawing area with no central image.
Rather, naked figures whole or in parts of both sexes and composite hermaphrodites
with breasts and cocks weave in an out of planes and orifices. As I have
said, Moore speaks in the text of making clear how Eroplay is not to be
thought of as driving for sex or focused on it. Rather it comes from a
presexual state of infancy, yet here the drawings are strongly sexual in
my view and often horrific. (No doubt, however, not meant so much to be
sexual as frank (pun intended).
Moore’s writing about the ethics of commitment is a powerful critique
of our shallow culture. What he says rings true and created a sense of
gratitude in me and inner resolution. He speaks with great personal authority.
In the general dialog of art and culture this form of art appears to be
the most difficult to speak about partly due to its radicality and partly
because it re-integrates art into religion, magic, belief, and effect.
It means and makes change. I, myself have twice come to a bifurcation point
re: some need to synthesize art as I practice it somewhat within the cultural
dialog and spaces of my profession as against a chosen spiritual path (Buddhism
or Native American teachings). I finally had to ask the question: which
was my core path, art or the spiritual path? And could the creative process
itself be a path to spiritual awakening and inner knowledge? Or was a core
of spirit teachings the only way and the art must be derived from it. Not
the least of which is the question of feminism. The female spiritual journey
is for me a major issue within this questioning.
Moore himself raises the question of Shamanism /as art - /as performance
- /as therapy. He cites performance as the bed of mystical initiation,
rites of passage, mystical ceremonies where art/science, philosophy, and
psychology and theology merge and become whole once again. Here, we may
experience these things as at once ancient and strange. The breaking of
restricting taboos and inner barriers moves towards a place not of isolated
individualism, but one of connectedness both in the interior landscapes
and with each other.
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